Sep 17

Our 4th Chuseok in Korea, Part 1 – Seoul

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. There is no pressure about gifts, the family is way less stressed, and it is all about gratitude, family, and good food. My kind of holiday. The day really embodies Fall, with it’s smells and sweaters, colors, and football (or nap time for me).

In Korea, Chuseok is compared to Thanksgiving because it is also a harvest festival (minus the genocide and kum ba yah stories of sharing some turkey), but it is as big as Christmas is in the States. Being that it’s one of the two biggest holidays in Korea, we usually get 4 or 5 days off! Hooray!

We also got some pretty great Chuseok gifts this year, and if you’re interested in seeing what kind of quirky things we got check out the video!

In the past we’ve taken part in Chuseok activities in Seoul, gone on a trip to Gangwon-do, and have had a laid back stay-cation, but this year was really special. My Aunt Kathy came to visit us for the holiday! She is our first family member to come visit us in Korea, so it’s an understatement to say we were really excited. We’ve been waiting for years to share our life here with people we love, IN PERSON. It’s one thing to do these blogs and videos, after all family is the reason we started doing them in the first place. But it’s just not the same as seeing everything in real life. My Aunt Kathy and I also have a special bond because we are kindred spirits, so the trip was extra special for me.

We left on Friday right after work and took the train up to Seoul. I could write a whole post about how stressful it was getting the train tickets for Chuseok weekend, but I’ll just say I had the help of my coteacher, her husband, 2 computers, and a phone. Traffic is insane during Chuseok so traveling by train is the only way to go. I’m so thankful for my coteacher’s help in getting the tickets for us!

Anyways, our plan was to hit the ground running. We met her in Myeongdong, and as we got out of the taxi from Seoul Stn. it was so surreal seeing my Aunt sitting there waiting for us! After living here for 4 years and never seeing family, it was such a new feeling seeing a loved one’s face in the landscape of Korea. After lots of hugs, we ventured up Namsan mountain via cable car to see the city from the top of N Seoul Tower.
N S Tower

They were closing the tower so we had very little time up there, but at least we got to go up! It made me remember just how huge Seoul is, it’s almost overwhelming sometimes! After admiring the view we went back to check out our hotel, Fraser Suites in Insadong. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a nice place in a great location! So many things are within walking distance, there is great service, and we even got upgraded to a 3 bedroom apartment! Our place was so nice that we didn’t wake up THAT early on Saturday – me and Evan were enjoying the comfy queen sized bed and my Aunt was still catching up on sleep.

It worked out perfectly because I wanted to be starving for what I had planned that day. As you guys know, near the beginning of the year we went on Zen Kimchi’s Dark Side of Seoul tour and really enjoyed it. We knew we wanted to do one of their food tours and this was the perfect opportunity. A group of us met by Mapo Station at 1pm and we set off for some delicious BBQ. The Mapo neighborhood in Seoul is famous for it’s style of BBQ, with a tray around the side of the grill where egg is mixed with kimchi and green onions and cooks alongside your meat. This style has become popular all over Korea in the past few years and can be found everywhere, but it’s great to eat it where it all began. This was my Aunt’s first Korean BBQ and she loved it! This will be a common theme, hehe!
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We also had some of the best Korean food (and drinks) I’ve ever had at two other restaurants, but I’m going to save the delicious details on that for another post. :)

After we sobered up a little bit we jumped on the Seoul Bus Tour. Our first stop was Deoksogung Palace. We arrived at dusk and it was gorgeous. We sat by the pond and just admired our surroundings, all the while I was eaten alive by mosquitoes! After that we took a long bus ride following the Han River to see all of the best night views of the city. I love how many cool bridges there are! If you haven’t used Seoul City Bus Tours I highly recommend it. Just 12,000 for a day and you can hop on and off where ever you want.
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The tour ended at Gwanghwamun Plaza, so we got off and walked to the Cheonggyecheon Stream. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, so after walking around a bit we grabbed some coffee and just sat at a table by the stream! We decided to try to throw a coin in this circle in the stream for good luck, and Aunt Kathy got it in on the first try! This was just the beginning of our great luck on this trip.
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Eventually we wandered over to the plaza to admire the great statues of Lee-Sun Shin and King Sejong. We sat in the grass and had a long talk about everything we did and saw that day. It’s so refreshing to see Korea through the eyes of someone new to the country again. It makes everything exciting and new again for us …not that we were getting tired of it here! ;)
G Plaza

On Sunday we didn’t do that much because we had a train to catch to Busan! But before we left we had time to take my Aunt to one of our favorite places in our first neighborhood, Yangpyeong! It sits by a stream that flows into the Nakdong river, and there are also great views of the more famous Mokdong neighborhood behind us. We also managed to meet up with our good friend Michael, take her to Le Cafe, our favorite coffee shop in Seoul, and eat bingsu of course!
Mokdong




We only had a short time in Seoul but I think we made the most of it without making it stressful! When we travel we don’t like to see it all, and I knew my Aunt felt the same way so it was great to show someone around that was laid back and mostly wanted to relax and see the highlights.

Be on the lookout for a post about the Busan part of our trip coming up soon!

Aug 25

5 Amazing Bingsu Desserts in Korea

My favorite thing to eat in the blistering hot Korean summer is bingsu. I’m not a huge fan of hot weather, so this popular dessert of shaved ice milk and assorted toppings is a perfect way to cool off. Starting around May you’ll see new businesses that open just for the summer, and you can assume that most of them are bingsu places. This summer I’ve noticed that a specific chain called Sulbing 설빙, which originated in Busan, has spread throughout the country. I’ve seen Sulbing or a ripoff version of Sulbing even in small towns in the country! We realized when we filmed this video that the two videos we’ve done about this tasty treat have both featured mango bingsu, so we decided to ask some friends to send us some pictures of their favorite bingsu around the country so that we could share it!

#1 – Traditional Style Patbingsu at Meal Top – Apgujeong, Seoul

Bingsu is traditonally Patbingsu 팥빙수 – “pat” meaning sweet red bean. Pat is used in several Korean desserts and snacks, and may be an acquired taste for some of you. Nevertheless, we had to start off our list of awesome bingsu desserts with a classic from a famous place in Seoul! This traditional patbingsu can be found at Meal Top (밀탑), in Apgujeong at the Hyundai Department store. They were voted as one of the best places for
bingsu in all of Seoul! They are very, very famous. Just mention “Bingsu in Seoul” and many people immediately think of Meal Top. It’s that famous.
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They do it up with a small selection of bingsu, and especially popular is their regular patbingsu. It’s straight up just the shaved ice, with the read bean on top and only two pieces of rice cake. You can get the iced milk version as well.

It’s simple, classic and the place is always packed. There’s a machine where you pull out a number and you get called on when tables are available.

Detailed directions to Meal Top

Contributed by Cory May, fellow youtuber based in Seoul.
Cory on Youtube
Cory on Facebook

#2 – Cheese Bingsu from Sulbing – Countrywide

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#2 on our list is also from Sulbing (because it’s that good) and is contributed by our friend Meagan.
Sulbing (설빙): Korean Dessert Cafe is a really popular chain in Korea and they make a fantastic cheese bingsu. It sounds kind of weird from the name, but it’s actually just bite-sized pieces of cheesecake mixed in with the shaved ice, along with almond slivers and fruit on top. It comes with a side of sweetened condensed milk (연유) that really takes it up a notch!
Meagan’s blog, a guide to life in South Korea.
http://www.lifeoutsideoftexas.com
Meagan on Facebook

#3 – Green Tea Bingsu from Beans & Berries – Countrywide


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Having tried tons of different patbingsu all over Seoul, our favorite Bingsu was the first one we bit into. It was Beans & Berries green tea bingsu. Which came with a heaping scoop of green tea ice cream, mixed nuts, corn flakes, and to top it all off, sweet red bean. It was a beautiful looking dessert until we mashed it all up. Somehow, it tasted even better than it looked. We almost didn’t get it due to the 12$ price tag, but ever since we did, we have been eating bingsu like its going out of style. Even though we have yet to find a bingsu we didn’t like, and trust us we are trying, Beans and Berries is still our favorite.

Beans & Berries has locations all around the country. If you read a little bit of Korean you can check out all of the locations on their website.

Contributed by Scott from the travel blog Bobo and Chichi
Connect with them on: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

michael

#4 – Green Tea Bingsu from Okrumong – Seomyeon, Busan

My friend Michael recommends Okrumong in Seomyeon, Busan. While they serve up the traditional patbingsu, they also have a slight twist on the traditional style with a green tea bingsu (녹차빙수). It tastes like frozen green tea! The bingsu here is a bit more expensive for the size at about 9 dollars for green tea bingsu, but it is well worth it!

Check out this blog post for more pictures of Okrumong, their card with contact information, and a map. (It’s in Korean but still useful for those that don’t read Korean.)

#5 – Injeolmi Bingsu (인절미빙수) Chew Rice Cake with Bean Powder Bingsu from Sulbing – Countrywide

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And yet another from Sulbing, I couldn’t help it! This one may sound really weird, but let me break it down for you. Injeolmi (인절미) is a kind of dense, chewy rice cake that is covered in a yellow bean powder. This rice cake is common to eat on its own, so they made it into a bingsu! I (Rachel) love traditional Korean flavors, which are often earthy, so this is my all-time favorite bingsu. It’s topped with sliced almonds, and hidden in the bean powder are small pieces of rice cake. If you’re not a big fan of rice cake, the pieces in this bingsu are very small and hardly noticeable. It’s the top-selling bingsu in Korea so I would give it a try at least once!

There you have it! 5 amazing bingsu desserts to try in Korea. They are unique and I think a bit healthier than ice cream. Of course there are so many more varieties of bingsu throughout the country, so leave a comment and tell us about YOUR favorite bingsu! :D

Aug 18

4 Years in Korea – How Korea Has Changed 2010-2014

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but July 13th marked 4 years in Korea for us! We’re a little bit late on celebrating this, but with our Youtube milestones and summer vacation, we didn’t want to overwhelm you guys with too much of the same thing (that thing being awesomeness hehe)!
Anyway, you may be wondering, “Did you plan on staying this long in Korea?” And the answer is, yes and no! We knew we would be here for more than one year. After the first year, I got an amazing job (the same one I have now), and since then we have found no reason good enough to leave! Now that Evan also has a job he loves, I can safely say that we will be sticking around for much longer than 4 years too. ;)

I’ll save you all of the cliche “It went by so fast”, mostly because we said all that in the video. But what I didn’t say in the video is that every year in Korea has gotten better – more adventures, better Korean, better food, better teaching methods, and just all around a more richer and fulfilling life with each year that passes. We still have other passions and things we want to do and accomplish in other parts of the world, but I can very well see Korea as a home base for us in the future, no matter where life takes us.

Now to get to the interesting bits! Change happens fast in a country this size with this many people. Trends in food and fashion change seasonally, and with new fair trade agreements having been signed, we’ve witnessed an influx of western products into Korea over the past 4 years. In the video we highlight some of these things, but we already know we’ve left out a ton! If you can think of something we’ve missed please leave it in a comment below!

Western chains more widespread

Subway – I remember being excited when we lived in Seoul our first year when we saw the Subway in Itaewon, but now there are too many to count in Seoul and we even have two in Yangsan! It’s weird that there are none in Busan, but I think they will be opening soon. Yay for easy access to sandwiches!

Mexican food – It’s been getting more popular with Koreans every year we’ve been here. There have been a lot of attempts of Korean-Mexican fusion food that has recently become popular in California, but I have to say that most of those have been a fail. If it’s not a fail, it’s so inordinately expensive that it makes it taste worse than it is, if that makes sense. But if you’re desperate, you can actually find Mexican food! Definitely couldn’t in 2010.

There are so many more western chains now that we actually made a video about all the western chains we’ve noticed in Korea! You can check that out here and check the comments for all of the ones we forgot. :P

Personal Hygiene Products

TAMPONS! They have them now. In 2010 I either saw none on the shelves or 1 box(the cardboard kind) for waaaay more than I wanted to pay for them. Now there is much more of a variety and they’re not AS expensive. But pads are still preferred by Korean women so just be aware ladies!

CONDOMS! They have them now. I never saw condoms prominently displayed in convenience stores or grocery stores until this past year! Isn’t that crazy? Korea also just aired its first commercial for condoms this past year, and since then, I’ve several different brands next to every check out counter. A noticeable change for sure.

Alcohol

The bottom line is that Korean beer is not good. It’s worse than Bud Light in my opinion. But thank god the whole craft beer scene has caught on in Korea in recent years! Craftworks in Seoul has expanded but is now not the only place serving up tasty brews. We have a popular brewery in Busan called Galmegi and we just got a craft beer and pizza place in YANGSAN. We really hit the suburb city jackpot here.

As far as imported bottles go, they are much more abundant and cheaper than they were in 2010. Self-serve beer bars have been really popular the past couple years. These bars have large coolers full of imports that you just get yourself and then pay later by the bottle. They’re still more expensive than we would pay back home, but not by that much.

Fresh Produce & Cheese

Everyone complains about how expensive fresh produce is in Korea. I always think the complaints are hyperbolic, but expats were right about the price of some fruit in 2010. Our first year a watermelon would easily cost you 20 bucks, and blueberries were incomprehensibly expensive! These days a watermelon will cost you 5-10 dollars, which is pretty much the same that I paid in the US.
Blueberries are also much more reasonably priced, although I haven’t splurged and bought them yet. I’d say they’re still about double the price than they are back home.
Avocados and limes are something that I see now in stores that I would have fainted at the sight of in 2010. Avocados will run you about 3 bucks a pop, but for some avocado lovers that’s well worth it!
Cheese, cheese, cheese. Good cheese is now available in stores, but it’s still too expensive for me to buy on a regular basis. I would still suggest buying a block of cheese at Costco for 20 bucks, than 5 slices for 5 bucks. Still though, for cheese emergencies, it’s there for you.

Organized Tours for Foreigners

This is something I’ve noticed just in the last year. It seems like there are countless organized trips for foreigners run by English speaking Koreans usually. (Gyopos or otherwise) I may just have not noticed them in previous years, but I only remember Adventure Korea being the main company that ran organized tours around the country. If you’re planning on coming to Korea in the future, you won’t have any trouble finding weekend trips already organized for you! The only one I’ve had experience with that I can recommend to you is Adventure Korea linked above and WINK-When in Korea.

Teaching Jobs

The ESL market is always changing in Korea, and expats have a wide range of opinions on the matter. In my opinion, not much has changed except for the major cuts made to middle and high school teaching jobs in Seoul and Busan. Being an elementary teacher, this hasn’t effected me, but I know many that have to make the switch from middle or high school to elementary in the past year or two.

As for our public school contracts, they recently capped the pay at 2.7 million won(previously you could make more than that), and they took away 1 week of vacation from our re-signing bonus. So now, instead of 2 extra weeks of vacation, we only have one. But considering it’s amazing we get ANY extra vacation just for staying with the same school, I didn’t think that was a big deal.

Clothes

Myeongdong is the famous shopping district in Seoul, and in 2010 it was the only place you could find Western clothing chain stores like H&M. This has changed a lot since then, with there being multiple H&M’s just in Myeongdong alone, as well as other neighborhoods and in Busan. You can also find Forever 21 and Uniqlo, a Japanese chain that I like to call the Asian Gap.
Also, as obesity is becoming more of a problem in Korea, I have noticed bigger sizes (that fit me) in Korean clothing sections in stores like Emart. Score!

Again let us know if you’ve noticed other changes, or if you have any questions!
It’s been an incredible four years, here’s to four more?!?!

Aug 16

You Are Here Cafe: Opening Day!

We went to Seoul last weekend for a very special occasion! Our friends at Talk to me in Korean along with Eat your Kimchi of Youtube fame have officially opened up a cafe together! It’s called You Are Here Cafe, and I think it will be an additional “must-see” to so many visiting Seoul for the first time. We first heard about the cafe this past winter from Hyunwoo (of TTMIK) during the beginning stages of planning, and we’re so excited that the opening day has finally come and gone so successfully.


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We are there..You Are Here! .. wait, what?
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The You Are Here Cafe, street view, opening day!

We left Yangsan for Seoul very early in the morning on Saturday to try to make it to the opening at 10AM. At around 9:30 we got a message from Hyunwoo on Kakao Talk with a picture of a line outside of the door of the cafe! Awesome, but not too surprising. By the time we arrived at around 10:30, the line was so long that you could walk down the road for 2 minutes next to the line, backed all the way up to a local GS25. Once we said our initial hellos, we helped them serve water to people waiting in line. Everyone seemed so busy because while they were managing the crowd and making sure the opening was going smoothly, they were also being stopped every two seconds by people for selfies! Props to them for holding themselves together in the cafe for more than 12 hours, whew.

We came and went all day and night, only leaving to eat lunch. When we came back to the cafe hours later, some of the same people were STILL in line. We heard that people waited in line around 3 hours to get into the cafe. Talk about dedicated fans and supporters!

We got a quick tour of the cafe from Hyunwoo, and I have to say, it’s a fantastic space. It’s not in the super busy part of Hongdae so it’s quiet, but I suspect this area will become more popular with the addition of the You Are Here Cafe. It’s 2 stories and has a patio and nice yard out front. Menu items were hand picked by the TTMIK and EYK team, and the food items are based off of Martina’s personal recipes! We tried the carrot cake and a powerball, both really delicious! (Unfortunately no picture, too hungry >.<)

The highlight of the day for me was hanging out with my fellow k-vloggers, because it's always so much fun when we all get together. Abi from Smiling Seoul has left Korea so it was the last time we could hang out with her. But we also got to meet Simon and Martina for the first time as well as Nic and Hugh from My Korean Husband! We’ve talked on social media a bit but it was really great to meet both couples and chat for a bit about youtube (as we do).


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Girls of Youtube Korea! Charly, Megan, me, Abi

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Us with Stephen and Simon and Martina!

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With Nic and Hugh from My Korean Husband!


Both TTMIK and EYK will be selling their merch in the cafe, and while we were there I picked up a “한국어 공부중” tote bag. They will also be using the cafe to host Languagecast every Monday, a language exchange meetup that they have been running for about 6 years now. Having their own space to host Languagecast as well as have and teach language classes has been a dream for them for years, and it’s so cool being there to see it become a reality! Congrats again to you guys!

And thanks everyone who recognized us and said hey! It was great to meet you guys and hear some of your stories. You guys made our day. :)

To see more photos from the day check out our Flickr page!
If you want to go to the cafe, there are video directions and a map here.

Jul 31

FLASK Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream in Busan

What is it?

South Korea is a country where you can very easily notice and identify trends–trends in fashion, hairstyles, and yes, FOOD! Every summer there seems to be a new ice cream trend. This year, one of those trends is liquid nitrogen ice cream! Different chains with the same concept are opening up all over Seoul and Busan, and we finally made our way to Nampo-dong in Busan to check out Flask. It looks like a laboratory and the “scientists” even wear white lab coats while they make your ice cream! While ice cream made by liquid nitrogen does not taste any different than ice cream made a more traditional way, the concept really comes together with the atmosphere of the shop, the “scientists” and the ice cream itself. Everyone loves getting ice cream, but this concept makes it into a show, and it’s a ton of fun. :)

How do I get there?

When we went there weren’t any clear directions to the shop, so we will try to make it easier for you with this map.
The easiest way is to go out exit 1 or 3 of Nampo Station on Line 1. Go to the nearest alley that leads to the big main shopping street of Nampo, called Gwangbok-ro. Take a left. Keep walking until you get to a kind of intersection where the road splits, and stay left. If you know where the KFC is, walk towards that. Keep walking until you see the KB bank and Prospecs(an athletic store). Take a right into the alley between the KB and Prospecs and Flask will be on your right! It’s not that hard to find at all, really. Hope the map helps! :)

flaskmap

If you know of any other locations for liquid nitrogen ice cream, please let us know! Have you tried it yet, or had anything like this in your home country? We’d love to hear about it!
Try to stay cool and enjoy your summer!

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